News

Firefighters gear up for election battle

Union gets enforsement from county Democrats; conducts polls to test messages

Even as Palo Alto's firefighters union continues its drive to keep a labor-reform measure off the November ballot, it is simultaneously preparing for a public-relations battle to defeat the measure.

The ballot measure, which the City Council narrowly approved in July, would repeal a 1978 law that enables a panel of arbitrators to settle labor disputes between the city and its public-safety unions. The union, International Association of Fire Fighters, Local 1319, vehemently opposes the measure and has asked the state Public Employment Relations Board for an injunction that would keep it off the Nov. 8 ballot.

The board had not made any decisions on the request as of Friday morning.

As it waits for the decision, the union is gearing up for a campaign battle to keep the existing law in place. The union succeeded this week in getting an endorsement for its campaign against the measure from the Santa Clara Democratic Party, whose Chair Steve Preminger equated the measure to the recent efforts by Wisconsin lawmakers to strip state workers of their collective-bargaining rights.

The binding-arbitration provision, encoded in Article V of the City Charter, applies only to police officers and firefighters -- employee group who are barred from striking by state law. Proponents of the repeal, led by Councilman Greg Scharff and Councilwoman Karen Holman, argued that the measure keeps the council from performing its duties in balancing the budget. The Fire Department's budget has been consistently increasing, while other departments have been forced to make cuts.

Opponents, including Councilwoman Gail Price and former Councilman John Barton, characterize the measure as a blow to the collective-bargaining rights of the public-safety unions. The Democratic Party made a similar argument in its endorsement of the firefighter campaign. The measure, Preminger said in a statement, "takes away the basic rights of firefighters and police officers."

"Firefighters and police officers deserve the same rights as other city employees," Preminger said.

Meanwhile, the union is fine-tuning its message by conducting phone polls. The union's spokesperson, Katie Merrill, said the polls are designed to "test the messages -- for and against."

Comments

Like this comment
Posted by phone call recipient
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Sep 16, 2011 at 10:41 am

I got one of the phone poll calls. By the time the questioning was done, I was so confused I didn't know what I really supported!
Can't believe the information would be useful to either side. And it took a bit of time.

The answer to the problem is simple, don't count overtime earned in the last 5 years of service in the retirement pay computation. DUH.


Like this comment
Posted by david
a resident of another community
on Sep 16, 2011 at 11:19 am

the fire union is has become so arrogant and entitled that the council has forced the fire union's hand to what we see today. learn to play nicely and it would not have come to this.


Like this comment
Posted by Resident and part time city employee
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 16, 2011 at 11:33 am

I got one of those calls also. And it definitely took longer than the ten minutes claimed at the beginning.

Sorry, folks. My mind is already made up. Binding arbitration has got to go. The firefighters want to compare themselves to other employees when it suits them, but not when it doesn't. And none of the union employees are willing to allow an equal comparison to private sector jobs.

I work for the city in an hourly position getting paid only for the work I do. Fine with me. No benefits. I get very tired of hearing my fellow city workers continually complain about the citizens of Palo Alto. Lots of ugly names for the people who put bread and butter on their tables. And lots of time chit-chatting, etc. And lots of excuses for why something can't be improved, changed, made more efficient...

If there was as much union investment in a job well done as there is in protecting the minimum amount of work possible, our country would be in a better situation right now.


Like this comment
Posted by Nope
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 16, 2011 at 12:28 pm

I don't believe in binding arbitration.


Like this comment
Posted by Concerned Retiree
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 16, 2011 at 12:49 pm

Sorry Firefighters, this latest battle/ballot will likely be another loss for you, both at the ballot box to retain binding arbitration and yet further erosion of your public image. Such stands make me wonder if I could trust you to do your job well and diligently -- the PAFD just seems all about pay and privilege.

I, too, got one of those phone call surveys. I am glad someone/something is questioning the latest effrontery by the PAFD.


Like this comment
Posted by Taxpayer
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 16, 2011 at 1:10 pm

I also received the survey phone call. From the tone of the questions, I'm pretty sure it was paid for by the union.

I'm definitely going to vote to repeal binding arbitration. I'm also going to put time in to educating others so that they will also vote to repeal binding arbitration


Like this comment
Posted by Just-Say-No
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Sep 16, 2011 at 1:35 pm

Maybe it would pay not to agree to this, or any survey, unless the contact on the phone identifies the client by name, address, and IRS status/identification. If they won't identify the client, why bother to provide them any information. Having an almost 100% opt-out of a target population might send a message to these folks.


Like this comment
Posted by Danil Gains
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Sep 16, 2011 at 1:55 pm

Yes, I think something has to be done, no I will not be voting for the repeal of binding arbitration.

The arbitration panel has been 7 times since the city charter was adopted. Four times the arbitrator has cited with the city and 3 times with the public employee unions.

Sounds like a fair and unbiased way to approach negotiations if you ask me. We are talking about our public safety employees here, I think the council should offer to remove the ballot measure IF fire agrees to give up minimum staffing.


Like this comment
Posted by Angry
a resident of Professorville
on Sep 16, 2011 at 1:56 pm

The fire union has become the most unashamedly greedy special interest in PA politics. Their membership are incredibly overpaid already. Enough is enough.


Like this comment
Posted by Alice Schaffer Smith
a resident of Green Acres
on Sep 16, 2011 at 2:09 pm

Alice Schaffer Smith is a registered user.

I support the right to bargain collectively.

I do not support Measure D for the reason that I see it as giving no rights to the employees who are PROHIBITED by state law from striking.

I am amazed that the city of Palo Alto would take a Wisconsin-like step towards not working with the employees and providing a way forward.

Please reconsider your actions and support retaining what was so hard fought for in 1978.


Like this comment
Posted by Carlito Waysman
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Sep 16, 2011 at 2:53 pm

The firefighters union can come up with a smoke and mirrors campaign in a futile attempt to confuse a well informed Palo Alto citizens, that can see very clear that binding arbitration, has to go.


Like this comment
Posted by Paul
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Sep 16, 2011 at 3:17 pm

Has anyone seen, or provided, a cogent explanation of how the existence of binding arbitration has contributed to the inability of the City Council to reasonably negotiate with the Fire Officers union?

I'm asking this seriously - with all the noise (I too took the phone survey for 15+ minutes and was more confused at the end than when I started) - I just don't get the basic FACTS (not opinions). Is there evidence that arbitration is the problem, and removing arbitration is (even a part of) the solution?


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Sep 16, 2011 at 3:32 pm

Binding arbitration is a big problem because it removes decision making from elected officials who are accountable to the citizens and gives that decision making authority to an unelected, unknown, unaccountable person.

Biding arbitration is binding and an arbitrator could require the city to agree to a settlement even if that settlement could bankrupt the city.

98% of the public safety workers in California do NOT have binding arbitration.


Like this comment
Posted by George
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Sep 16, 2011 at 3:50 pm

Only a union can afford the 'push telephone survey' which is currently running in Palo Alto. 'Push' means that their poll questions are designed to lead you to answers they are subtly planting in your mind.

Notice it is never mentioned that the phone 'poll' is being paid for by a union sympathizer. Very underhanded. But the truth will come out when the expenditure eventually shows up in a campaign expense report.

What the union is looking for are those who may lean toward voting against the repeal of binding arbitration. Then they will invest another ton of money getting those people to vote by mail or at the polls.

For unions, campaign money is no object. When they win, union dues swell to cover campaign expenses like this. We have to make them pay a big price to wage a losing battle.

YES on Measure D will repeal binding arbitration and send the message that underhanded campaign tactics and massive campaign expenditures will not be tolerated or rewarded by Palo Alto voters.


Like this comment
Posted by Ruth
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 16, 2011 at 5:21 pm

I agree with the comment above:
"The fire(fighters) union has become the most unashamedly greedy special interest in PA politics. Their members(hip) are incredibly overpaid already. Enough is enough."


Like this comment
Posted by RadioGuy
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 16, 2011 at 5:30 pm

RadioGuy is a registered user.

> Has anyone seen, or provided, a cogent explanation of how the existence of binding arbitration has contributed to the inability of the City Council to reasonably negotiate with the Fire Officers union?

Yes, we are currently in that situation right now, and have been for the past several years. One big problem with the binding arbitration for our public safety unions is that binding arbitration does not have to be actually invoked to drive up costs to the City. Simply the threat of binding arbitration forces the City to make a better offer than necessary and reasonable. If the union does not accept the offer, the union can force their case into binding arbitration. The arbitrator is not required to take the long or short term state of the City's finances into consideration. Once the arbitrator rules, the City must comply. That's the "binding" part. If negotiations went to arbitration today, the City could be on the hook for millions more to the firefighters and get nothing, such as adjustments to minimum mandatory staffing, in return. The truth is, the firefighters union has given up almost nothing since the financial crisis hit us in 2008.

> The arbitration panel has been 7 times since the city charter was adopted. Four times the arbitrator has cited with the city and 3 times with the public employee unions.

Yes, that's true. But that's not the whole story. San Luis Obispo added binding arbitration in the 2000. Binding arbitration was used exactly once. Look at the graph to see the effect binding arbitration had on SLO's police salaries over the last ten years: Web Link

Like Palo Alto, SLO wound up yielding too much to the public safety unions. In their case, it was the police union. In ours, it's the fire union. SLO voted to repeal their binding arbitration for the same reason that Palo Alto does. It's impossible to budget for costs that you can't control.

> I support the right to bargain collectively. I do not support Measure D for the reason that I see it as giving no rights to the employees who are PROHIBITED by state law from striking. I am amazed that the city of Palo Alto would take a Wisconsin-like step towards not working with the employees and providing a way forward.

I support collective bargaining too. But, you're confusing the right of collective bargaining with the binding arbitration. Nobody is asking to take away collective bargaining from the public unions as was done in Wisconsin. Measure D simply repeals binding arbitration and makes the negotiations between the taxpayers and the union fair and reasonable. I will vote YES on Measure D.


Like this comment
Posted by George
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Sep 16, 2011 at 8:52 pm

Binding arbitration is a win-win for unions, a lose-lose for cities and their taxpayers. YES on Measure D will change that.

Under the current binding arbitration provision in the Palo Alto charter, the city is obligated to make its last, best, and final offer to the union. When the union has even higher demands (surprise, surprise), the union declares an impasse. An impasse in Palo Alto leads to binding arbitration.

An arbitrator, by law, can pick ONLY 1) the city's last and best offer OR 2) the union's higher demands.

The union wins either way. Worst case, the arbitrator awards the union the city' best offer. Best case, the arbitrator awards the union its outrageous demands.

You can see how binding arbitration becomes a mighty club wielded by unions which effectively coerce ever-higher offers and/or awards, whether an arbitrator is called in or not.

More than 95% of California cities do not offer binding arbitration. Negotiated mediation is the method they use to reach agreement, just as Palo Alto will when binding arbitration is repealed with a YES vote on Measure D.

YES on Measure D is the only way to slow the expensive compensation spiral Palo Alto is stuck with now.


Like this comment
Posted by Thank you Police and Fire
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 16, 2011 at 9:06 pm

Peter: An arbitrator is agreed upon by the city and the union. They are provided with city finances and both sides of the argument to determine what is fair. As previously stated, it has turned out favorable for both parties.

Everyone keeps referring to the fire department...um this effects the police too!!!

Federal laws prohibits emergency services from striking. Without binding arbitration there is no reason to think the city would negotiate with them. We are being fed propaganda telling us the ff want more money. IN fact, they offered a $3.1 million cut which the city declined and refused to negotiate. They also did this to PD who offered a pay cut. The city is not negotiating in good faith because they are waiting for the measure to pass so they do not have to compromise. IN the meantime, the contracts of both Fire and Police have long expired and the city is spending money to stall via lawyers.

Last we are focusing on a quarter of the budget when we need to focus on all of the budget. Where is all the money going?

In reality cities who have said we can make up the difference by penalizing fire and police have mostly failed. Look at San Diego. Both departments have taken huge cuts but the cities budget is just as bad if not worse.

I am by far a democrat and I cannot believe I am saying this but Thank you SC Democrats for supporting the men and women of the fire and police department.


Like this comment
Posted by This will impact Police too
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 16, 2011 at 9:32 pm

I know the world is irritated at the fire union, but lets remember the police employees will get tossed overboard with this change also.

Why do the police officers need a fair impartial arbitrator to decide disputes? Here's why.

The CITY opended negotiations with the police officers several weeks ago and demanded approximately 25% to 30% in compensation reductions along with a 2 Tier retirement system and changes to medical.

Here are some of the bigger cuts

1) An immediate and retroactive 8% salary reduction.

2) An immediate increase in retirement contribution of 9% of salary for all employees.

3) An additional immediate 6% salary reduction for long-term employees.

4) Other Misc. Benefit concessions for another 2% or more.

All totalled 25 to 30% in immediate reductions in compensation. These concessions will be added to the new Medical contributions and retirement changes.

As employees of the City we get it. Times have changed. We are more than willing to to explore any of these changes or a combination of these changes, but it's completely crazy to consider lowering our compensation by 25% or more in additiona to changes in medical and retirement.

If the City has the ability to force these concessions through after Arbitration is voted out, Palo Alto will have the lowest paid police officers in Santa Clara County and likely the entire bay area.

We fully support reasonable changes and concessions, but we have no ability to deal with the City who feels empowered by the probability that arbitration will get voted out.

In short order, less than a month, the Police officers have alrerady agreed to retirement changes, medical changes, and substantial concessions. The City won't except it.


Like this comment
Posted by Al
a resident of Midtown
on Sep 16, 2011 at 9:36 pm

After measure D wins in Nov, then:
10 to 15% pay cut and 75% max pension for retirement.


Like this comment
Posted by SPH
a resident of Barron Park
on Sep 16, 2011 at 10:22 pm

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]


Like this comment
Posted by Ryan
a resident of College Terrace
on Sep 17, 2011 at 1:49 am


Six figure compensation. Six figure pension starting at 50! Lifetime medical benefits...

...all for 2 24 hour shifts per week, much of which is paid sleep and idle time between the 98% of calls which are non fire-related.

This is what happens when special interest unions bully/buy too much influence over the city. The taxpaying public needs Measure D.


Like this comment
Posted by Ryan
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 17, 2011 at 9:41 am

[Post removed due to same poster using multiple names]


Like this comment
Posted by To Ryan
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 17, 2011 at 10:15 am

Ryan,

You are basically correct but off just a bit.

Several years ago, the police department received a 30% increase, but it was over three years (actually 4 because they deferred the last installment for a year).

An you are also right that this was done because we could not hire anyone and people were leaving in droves due to being one ofthe lowest paid agencies in the area.

It all goes in cycles, but it does cost a tremendous amount of money to cycle through new officers and the 1 year plus hiring and training process.


Like this comment
Posted by qed
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Sep 17, 2011 at 10:49 am

Firefighters aren't dong themselves any favors - posting multiple times in their thread when they're supposed to be "working"!


Like this comment
Posted by Peter Carpenter
a resident of Atherton
on Sep 17, 2011 at 11:34 am

To Ryan states:'It all goes in cycles, but it does cost a tremendous amount of money to cycle through new officers and the 1 year plus hiring and training process. "

Sounds like a great argument for outsourcing the PD to the Sheriff - tremendous economies of scale and far more growth opportunities for the individual officers.


Like this comment
Posted by Ryan
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 17, 2011 at 6:39 pm

30% pay raise over 3 years just to keep the police from leaving and your right, it does go in circles. So with that said- pay now or later.


Like this comment
Posted by Joseph E. Davis
a resident of Woodside
on Sep 18, 2011 at 12:18 pm

For fiscal sanity and the sake of the common citizen, make pubic sector unions illegal as they were until the 1970s.


Like this comment
Posted by Mike
a resident of Crescent Park
on Sep 18, 2011 at 1:34 pm

Endorsement of FF position by the Democratic Party?

Follow the money.


Like this comment
Posted by massuese
a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 18, 2011 at 4:03 pm

I am still curious, how our city is in such financial dire straits, but we can continue to upgrade old buildings, build new ones, receive 40 million from stanford, etc, that the city claims to have have no money and alienate the public safety to reach those goals. No, the FF's have not helped their cause, I agree. But binding arbitration is not limited to them nor pay/benefits, and the absence leaves lawsuits as the only recourse for public safety employees to retain employee rights. I am guessing that will cost the city, with its history of "snafu's" and mismanagement, more in the long run. The rumors on these sites have indicated the city has already denied concessions from all groups that would reach their budget goals (including pension reforms), yet they have not accepted these terms. What is the deal?

I agree FF's minimum staffing levels and pension reform must be done, but make them the m the lowest paid in the county on top of several years of budget cuts already? Look at what is happening with crime in San Jose for an example.....then take away seasoned, qualified employees....

I see trouble.


Like this comment
Posted by Resident
a resident of Community Center
on Sep 18, 2011 at 5:04 pm

I'm not sure the city is in bad financial shape. But they have to budget their spending and make choices. The ff's union has done an amazing job of funding politicians like Price who have allowed the ff's to become an un-sustainable spending problem. If there was no other way to staff the pafd and no candidates would apply, then we might have to continue to pay ff's $150K per year to mostly sleep and be idle. Spending exorbitantly on ff's means less money for libraries, parks, utilities, etc. Due to grand jury reports etc, it has become clear what a boondoggle the PAFD is. The organization is a major problem and is now (finally) starting to get the attention required (to fix the problems).

The PAPD are a different issue. My experiences is that in general they are a pretty competent group and use their resources effectively. But I believe they are over compensated also and again it is due to union influence on politicians like Price. I would like to see binding arbitration removed from the PA charter and all the safety employees paid at the market rate.

For ff's the market rate is $50-60K for experienced employees , and up to $100K for top level management. But they need to adjust staffing so that the ff's actually work and don't spend most of their time idle or shopping. For the police I think the pay range should be similar, but I;m not as familiar with the market rate. Maybe it needs to be higher.

The police have a much more difficult, demanding job than the ff's. Their job is much more dangerous than being an ff, and the police need to use many more mental skills and understanding of behavior to be effective.

The bigger issue is the "plundering" of the government budgets (locally, at the state level and at the national level) by government unions. They have become very good at funding politicians whose highest priority is to get re-elected and they use the union funding to make this happen. Then the politicians use their power to ensure that the government union employees receive exorbitant compensation. We have the power (via the ballot) to fix this problem. But folks have to make sure they are educated and and not be fooled by false arguments when they vote.

Repeal binding arbitration!

Defeat politicians like Gail Price!


Like this comment
Posted by anonymous
a resident of another community
on Sep 18, 2011 at 8:03 pm

Phone Call Recipient-
The pension system law does NOT allow overtime compensation to be used in pension calculations. Never has...never will.


Like this comment
Posted by Markus
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 18, 2011 at 8:53 pm

Resident is absolutely right about stopping the waste of taxpayer money by catering to the new powerful special interests (public employee unions).

PA Firefighters are grossly overpaid. I know plenty of capable people who would be happy to have the job for 50-60K, with a path to 100K with additional responsibility.

The Police are probably a bit overpaid too, but not by nearly as much. Unlike the firefighters, they work their entire shifts, vs. the overstaffed ffs who have 24 hour shifts which include paid standby time in the station. Their job is also more complicated and potentially hazardous. Their union is much less entitled and more reasonable than Spitaleri and Co. The police have little to fear from Measure D (they have respected the public and will are respected in turn). The fire union loves to hide their own shenanigans behind their more deserving counterparts, and has earned what it has coming.


Like this comment
Posted by Markus
a resident of Downtown North
on Sep 18, 2011 at 8:53 pm

Resident is absolutely right about stopping the waste of taxpayer money by catering to the new powerful special interests (public employee unions).

PA Firefighters are grossly overpaid. I know plenty of capable people who would be happy to have the job for 50-60K, with a path to 100K with additional responsibility.

The Police are probably a bit overpaid too, but not by nearly as much. Unlike the firefighters, they work their entire shifts, vs. the overstaffed ffs who have 24 hour shifts which include paid standby time in the station. Their job is also more complicated and potentially hazardous. Their union is much less entitled and more reasonable than Spitaleri and Co. The police have little to fear from Measure D (they have respected the public and will are respected in turn). The fire union loves to hide their own shenanigans behind their more deserving counterparts, and has earned what it has coming.


Like this comment
Posted by masseuse
a resident of South of Midtown
on Sep 18, 2011 at 10:21 pm

And speaking about Gail Price and the unions, I spoke with an officer the other day who mentioned the police union in Palo Alto has never supported a public official/city councilman
financially or volunteering. Can anyone cite any direct donations or prove this incorrect?


Like this comment
Posted by George
a resident of Leland Manor/Garland Drive
on Sep 18, 2011 at 11:17 pm

The Palo Alto binding arbitration requirement has resulted in:
• Average wages for firemen of more than $140,000 per year and total compensation of $205,000
• 100% medical coverage for life, including dependents
• Pensions that are 90% of their highest year’s salary with eligibility to retire at age 50
• Staffing rules that require the same number of firefighters on duty 24 hours a day regardless of need

Now the fire union is indicating MAYBE it would be willing to negotiate lower minimum staffing requirements IF the city drops Measure D from the ballot. It is the union 'spirit of compromise' like this for decades that has put the city behind a big financial 8-ball (see the bullet points above).

Measure D will be on the ballot because, 1) it should be, and 2) it is too late for any other reasonable course of action.

YES on Measure D will enable city management and council to better manage terms of employment for public safety employees.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

The Oft-Unseen Fruits of End-of-Life Care
By Aldis Petriceks | 1 comment | 1,578 views

Global Warming Diet
By Laura Stec | 5 comments | 1,139 views

Couples: "Taming Your Gremlin" by Richard Carson
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 954 views

He said – she said – who is lying? Justice Brett Kavanaugh or PA resident Christine Ford
By Diana Diamond | 11 comments | 843 views

Preparing for kindergarten
By Cheryl Bac | 0 comments | 532 views

 

Pre-registration ends tomorrow!

​On Friday, September 21, join us at the Palo Alto Baylands for a 5K walk, 5K run, 10K run, or—for the first time—half marathon! All proceeds benefit local nonprofits serving children and families.

Learn More